Vol.1, No.9

Are chilis perennials or annuals?

Chili pepper plants can be both annuals and perennials. They are fun and easy to grow in any climate, indoors or outdoors.

Chili pepper plant
Chile pepper plants are usually perennial, though in most areas north of the equator they are grown as annuals or container plants. This can vary by variety, though some marked as annuals can be grown as perennials indoors or in greenhouses. Chili peppers originated in South America, so while they can be grown in the north, they are still a tropical perennial plant.

If you live in a tropical area or the deep south of the United States, where the ground does not freeze, consider your chilies perennials. Be sure to plant them in an area that is protected from frost, or plan to cover them on cold nights. Even a light frost will inflict damage to chili plants. The plants may live, but will not set fruit pods in the next growing season. Frost protective covers and blankets are sold in most garden centers, but on mildly cold night, an old blanket will do. The areas of your garden least susceptible to frost are those closest to the house and the warmth it radiates.

If you don't live in a tropical climate, your chili peppers will be treated as annuals in the garden, or perennials if planted in containers. Container growing is recommended in areas with short growing seasons as the chilies will not be fully ripe when cold weather begins. Containers can be brought indoors during cold weather, lengthening the growing season and allowing the peppers to mature fully. A short growing season is considered May through October. If there's frost on the ground in April, plant chilies in containers!

Once brought indoors, your chili plants will need a sunny window, plenty of water, and regular fertilizer. Do not pick your chilies until they are easy to remove from the plant; if you must yank them off, they are not ripe. Harvesting chili peppers too soon can damage the plant.

Chili plants make beautiful ornamental specimens, and will grow in any well drained container. Half-barrels, metal pails and window boxes are favorite containers, but even an old watering can with holes drilled in the bottom will serve well.

The hotter the weather, the hotter your chili peppers will taste. The ideal night temperature for growing peppers as perennials is around sixty degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures colder than this may damage your chilies.

Heat, or the hotness of the chili pepper, is measured in Scoville units. A relatively mild pepper, such as the jalapeno commonly found in salsas, measures around 5000 Scoville units, depending on individual variety and growing conditions. The hottest peppers, like the habanero and serrano, measure between 80,000 and 300,000 Scoville units.

The amount of water your chili plants receive can also affect taste. Too much water and soggy conditions will impart a bitter flavor. Over-watering also risks root rot, a disease that can be deadly.

The growth of any plant is largely dependant on the soil conditions; this is especially important in container growing. Outdoor soil is constantly evolving and nutrients are more easily replenished. In containers, you must provide all the nutrients your chilies need to grow. Chilies prefer an acidic soil and regular fertilizer. Compost, eggshells and peat moss are good soil additives that will improve the health and production of your plants.